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The laws of war

Tomorrow, the 18th of April, is Webinar Wednesday for The Legal Genealogist, and the topic is the laws of war.

And I can just hear somebody out there now: “Say what? What do the laws of war have to do with genealogy?”

So glad you asked — even if you didn’t — because I’m going to answer that question anyway.

You see, there really weren’t a whole lot of written rules of war until the Civil War and President Lincoln’s issuance of a document that came to be known as General Orders 100, or the Instructions for the Government of Armies of the United States.1

Lincoln's lawsIssued in April 1863 — the document has its 155th birthday this time next week — this code of the laws of law was a revolutionary document, designed as a guide to rules of engagement — how to fight a war, as opposed to how to act like a soldier.

It set the legal framework that persists to this day to govern behavior on the battlefield, towards prisoners of war, and towards enemy civilians and noncombatants. Its provisions were extensive — the code had 157 articles, broken down into 10 sections ranging from martial law to assassinations to treatment of spies.2

Now… think about that scope for a minute from a genealogical perspective. A code that the military was supposed to follow in the field and off the field. What do you think a code like that produced?

You got it in one.


Wonderful, detailed, often priceless genealogical records.

We’re going to talk a bit about the laws of war — and a whole lot about the records resulting from the laws of war — tomorrow, starting at 2 p.m. EDT, in Lincoln’s Laws and the Records of War, a Legacy Family Tree webinar that you can still register for register for here.

Be aware, of course, that the webinar software only accommodates so many people, and many webinars fill up early, so you may want to log in a little early to be sure you get a seat. Seriously, some folks who’ve registered may not be able to get into a webinar if they log in a little late.

If this happens to you, please don’t worry: you will be able to hear the whole presentation. Remember, the great thing about Legacy Family Tree webinars is that each one is available, free, for a few days after the webinar, and the webinar hosts do a terrific job of getting the full recording of each webinar online within hours.

And even after the free period, each recording is then available for purchase so you can review it more slowly, in more depth, at your own pace. Or you can just subscribe to the entire Legacy Family Tree webinar service, and get on-demand access to the entire archived set — some 690 classes of genealogical materials, 900-plus hours of instruction already and new materials added every week. The cost right now is $49.95 for a year, and $9.95 for a month.

Note: truth in advertising here, as a Legacy presenter, I do benefit financially if you buy one of my recordings or the whole series. That being said, I genuinely believe this is one of the best buys in genealogy these days. Just take a look at the upcoming presentations. Tonight, for example, in the BCG-sponsored webinar series, Patti Lee Hobbs is presenting Better Together: Making Your Case with Documents and DNA. Next Wednesday, Marian Pierre-Louis will present a beginner’s guide to Verifying Information You Find Online and you can take your understanding of online research to a higher level on May 9 when Cyndi Ingle presents The Hidden Web: Digging Deeper.

And there’s so much more.

Take a gander at the offerings at the Upcoming Webinars page and make sure your register in advance for any presentation that you want to hear.

Oh… and come early.

Things can get crowded, even online…


  1. See Francis Lieber, Instructions for the Government of Armies of the United States (Washington, D.C. : Govt. Printing Office, 1898); PDF, Library of Congress ( : accessed 17 Apr 2018).
  2. See generally Burrus M. Carnahan, “The Lieber Code,” Essential Civil War Curriculum ( : accessed 17 Apr 2018).
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